Drug that cuts off tumor's blood supply extends lives of colorectal cancer patients

A drug designed to cut off a tumor's blood supply, when paired with a chemotherapy combination, resulted in significant improvement in survival in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer, the first time in decades that survival times have been extended in patients with this devastating form of advanced cancer.

The results of the study, done at UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center and several other sites nationwide, appear June 3, 2004 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study paired the angiogenesis inhibitor Avastin, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February for use in colorectal cancer, with irinotecan, 5-fluorouracil and leucovorin. The combination therapy improved median survival in patients by nearly five months, reducing risk of death by more than 30 percent. It also improved response rates, duration of response and progression-free survival times, said Dr. Fairooz Kabbinavar, a Jonsson Cancer Center researcher and senior author of the study.

"To put this study in the right perspective, up until the year 2000, median survival in patients with advanced colorectal cancer was about 12 months," said Kabbinavar, an associate professor of hematology/oncology who has been working with Avastin for the last 10 to 12 years, both in the lab and in the clinic. "In just four short years, we're now looking at survivals in excess of two years. We've come a long way. Avastin has not only changed the way we treat colorectal cancer, but I believe it will become a part of cancer management for other tumors such as lung, breast and pancreatic cancers."

A tumor cannot grow bigger than a pinhead unless it establishes an independent blood supply through a process called angiogenesis. This process provides the tumor with the oxygen and nutrients it needs to grow and spread. Researchers have theorized that by stopping or cutting off the new blood supply, they can starve and, hopefully, kill the cancer. Researchers had hoped that

Contact: Kim Irwin
University of California - Los Angeles

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